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25 Sivan 5766 - June 21, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
If There is No G-d-fear, There is No Wisdom

by HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman

Part I

Chazal tell us that four things need reinforcement and encouragement, one of them being Torah. This means that Torah needs constant strengthening. Another thing is yiras Shomayim, for Torah and yiras Shomayim go hand in hand.

"The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Hashem." This is primary, axiomatic. We find elsewhere that "if there is no G- d-fear, there is no wisdom." If wisdom refers to Torah this is obvious, but if it is talking about general wisdom, why is the fear of Hashem a prerequisite to any knowledge? Don't we see people who have a great deal of knowledge and still are not G-d-fearing?

It seems, then, that it is referring to the wisdom of Torah. But even here, we do not see that every person who is well versed in Torah (a lamdan) is necessarily a pious and good person, even if he is not evil. Still, one might think that if he is so knowledgeable, he should, in like measure, be suffused with G-d-fear. But we do not always see this; they do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Without Yiras Shomayim, Any Outlook is Superficial

In truth, there can be no wisdom without a fear of Hashem, since it is common and natural for man to accept things at face value and on the first impression. As soon as a person sees something, he draws an immediate conclusion. He forms his initial opinion. He does not even stop to think before he has already expressed his view.

We often see that when a problem arises or an event occurs which has the whole world talking about it, that is what happens — everyone expresses his opinion before having heard all the facts. How can a person know what to think before seeing the whole picture? One must examine things from all sides, explore the matter in depth, learn the sugya. And yet, everyone acts as a self-appointed authority, a genius, and can state an `informed' judgment on the topic . . .

Let us say a catastrophe occurred, something like the tsunami in which some 300,000 people lost their lives. Mention the subject and any person will present his view, his assessment, without having any real information on the phenomenon.

Zefania the prophet says (3:6), "I cut off nations, and made them desolate." And he says further (v.7), "I said, just see . . . and you will learn a lesson therefrom." If a major event occurs, everyone should take it to heart not only those directly affected. Especially so Jews, the Chosen People, for Hashem is sending them a message to internalize through this event. "I said: You will see and will take mussar therefrom."

That is the purpose of it, to teach us a lesson, to wake us up from lethargy. People will attempt to wave it off as a natural phenomenon, something that just `happens,' for this reason or that. No! You must see it and learn a lesson. That is the reason it happened: to make us sit up and take notice and reach personal conclusions that affect us.

And so it is with everything. One must always be involved in seeking truth, in asking and contemplating how something is supposed to affect us. A person who does not think and ask, will never arrive at the real reason for events. It is no wonder that throughout the ages, people generally did not understand what was happening to them; they did not stop to think that it was supposed to affect them personally. They did not ask what message Hashem was trying to convey to them.

The Ocean Flooded a Third of the World — and No One was Shaken!

The Torah tells us that in the generation of Enosh, Hashem brought a deluge that swept away a third of civilization. One cannot know how many people there were at the time; it could have been a great number since people were very prolific then, unlike today.

This catastrophe occurred in the beginning of the world, during the third generation of humanity, in the lifetime of Odom's grandson.

Why did this happen? Chazal tell us it was because people began worshiping idols. But people should have wondered and asked themselves why it had happened. Why did the ocean, which had been confined to its borders, suddenly take over a third of the dry land, swallowing up everything on it including the people, and leaving no trace of them behind?

The survivors should have taken this to heart and learned a lesson from the calamity. They should have understood that they must improve their ways. But, with the exception of Chanoch and Mesushelach, they did not take mussar. They only persevered in their evil ways, until Noach came along.

Noach's generation was no different, and Hashem reached the conclusion that the world, a world of evil people, could not continue thus. It was not for this purpose that He had created it. The Torah tells us that the world was completely corrupt and degenerate with the sins of theft and promiscuity. The catastrophe of the first deluge in Enosh's time which had inundated a third of the world had not shaken anyone up, had not made anyone improve his ways. People saw, but remained unaffected. They probably said to themselves that this was a chance natural disaster; things like this do occur. That was their explanation, as they dismissed the event and derived no lesson from it.

To think that this was a punishment visited from Heaven — Oh, no!

How Could People Come to Worship the Sun?

At this point, people began to worship idols and deities. Why? If a person sees the sun, he must conclude that someone created it. The sun itself is a material entity, and matter does not last forever; at some point in time it must cease to be. How then, can it be a god, a creator?

But they did not take the trouble to think. They began worshiping the sun under the assumption that it had been given divine powers.

Can an inanimate object have power to do something of its own? It made no difference to them, even though logic dictated that the sun was simply a creation, an object. But when a person wishes to persevere in his error, he ignores the truth since it does not serve him and he tailors the facts to serve him. And he was interested in serving that inanimate object called the sun.

Look! Observe! And Realize that There Is a Creator of the World!

Hashem then did something to shake them from their lethargy, to make them realize that they were altogether mistaken. He brought the ocean up from its bed to flood a third of the world. "If you but see Me, you will take it to heart." You will necessarily understand that Someone is administering the world — and it is not the sun! Was it, then, the sun that flooded a third of the world? Would this be possible? Why can't you understand this?

But it did not help. Why? Because if one does not want to see the truth, if he does not seek it, he will surely err.

If fear of Hashem does not fill a person's heart, he will misconstrue reality, deliberately or not, since the beginning of wisdom is the fear of Hashem.

When mankind went astray, it reached a state that Hashem sought to destroy the entire world except for Noach and his family, who were righteous. Chazal tell that Og, King of Boshon, held on to the outside of the ark throughout the Flood, which was miraculous. The Maharsho (Niddah 61) brings the Midrash which tells that King Sichon was born in the ark; he was the survivor of the entire world, of mankind — outside Noach and his three sons and their wives. Hashem had to destroy a world that had become degenerate in every way.

Until Avrohom Ovinu Came and Shouted, "The World Has a Creator!"

After Noach emerged from the ark and began a new life, one might have thought that all would go well, but this was not so. Mankind reverted to its sinful ways, until Avrohom Ovinu came along.

He sought the truth. He looked around him and introspected. "How can it be that the sun is almighty, that it is a god?" he asked himself.

He arrived at the conclusion that there is a Creator Who made the sun and created the rest of the world. He began disseminating monotheism to the entire world.

There is a Creator, he declared to all. Along came Nimrod and cast him into the fiery furnace. The fire was so intense that even those standing at a distance were burned. But Hashem wrought a miracle and rescued him.

Henceforth, there began a new chapter for mankind with Avrohom and all of his descendants — all the generations until the end of time.

One Needs to Seek the Truth in Order to Be Worthy

We see, that generally speaking, people don't want to know the truth. If they did, they would arrive at the right and truthful conclusion. But they don't look for it. They don't want to trouble themselves to think, to understand, and they merely dismiss things saying, "That's just the way it is."

So has it been throughout the generations. If, however, one wishes to attain yiras Shomayim, Torah knowledge, things that are real and true, the only way is through the search for truth. A person can apply himself to study, and want to gain knowledge — but if he does not search for the truth, he will not acquire the above either.

Indeed, it is no easy matter to be a seeker of truth. One must invest a great deal of energy and be willing to sacrifice for it, as Chazal say regarding Torah study, "This is the Torah way: Bread dipped in salt shall you eat, and measured water shall you drink, and on the floor shall you sleep, and a life of suffering shall you live. If you do this you are fortunate and it is good for you (Ovos 6:4)."

What does this mean? Is this the only way to attain Torah? Can there be no other way? Apparently not.

If a man genuinely seeks truth, this is the only approach. One must toil and sacrifice and be prepared for difficult circumstances.

End of Part I

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